US President Barack Obama has halted new coal leasing while the Department of the Interior launches a comprehensive review of the federal coal program.
The news was announced on Friday by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who revealed that the Interior Department “will launch a comprehensive review to identify and evaluate potential reforms to the federal coal program.” Specifically, the review will attempt to structure the country’s coal program so that energy needs will be met, but also “provide a fair return to taxpayers and reflects its impacts on the environment.”
According to the Interior Department, the review is in direct response to concerns raised by numerous government bodies, including the Government Accountability Office, the Interior Department’s Inspector General, Members of Congress — not to mention many concerns raised by the public.
“Even as our nation transitions to cleaner energy sources, building on smart policies and progress already under way, we know that coal will continue to be an important domestic energy source in the years ahead,” said Secretary Jewell. “We haven’t undertaken a comprehensive review of the program in more than 30 years, and we have an obligation to current and future generations to ensure the federal coal program delivers a fair return to American taxpayers and takes into account its impacts on climate change.”
The news comes at the same time as new figures published by the US Energy Information Administration revealed that US coal production had fallen to its lowest levels since 1986, dropping 10% on 2014 numbers.
The move, unsurprisingly, received a mixed response.
“In the long-term, this pause has the potential to negatively impact Powder River Basin producers most which rely on the federal program to acquire new reserves,” Lucas Pipes, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets, said in a research note for clients.
“Another day, another front on the war on coal from this administration,” Karen Harbert, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in a statement. “At this point, it is obvious that the President and his administration won’t be satisfied until coal is completely eradicated from our energy mix. Their foolish crusade takes away one of America’s greatest strengths—our diverse mix of energy sources. If the President wants electricity rates to skyrocket—as he once said he did—he’s on the right path.”
“This is a historic decision that greatly improves the world’s chances of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change and has burnished President Obama’s climate legacy,” said Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica.
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